The BBC is facing a backlash after it sacked its head of diversity and gender diversity, Kamal Ahmed, and appointed an all-white board that breaches its diversity rules.
The board of the BBC News Group has been reduced from 11 to eight members, with the loss of two senior executives and the appointment of a new director-general. Survivors of the restructuring include Jonathan Munro, the first black chief executive of BBC Radio 4, and the former director-general of ITV and BBC World Service. Kamal, once tipped as a future director-general, lost his job late last year after modernising BBC news.
Fran Unsworth was chief executive of BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service and head of the BBC News Group from 2010 to 2012.
Director-General Tim Davie said diversity was “critical” to the BBC when he took over and the corporation had achieved its targets. The board must have non-white members, and senior BBC executives would behave in this way, he said. Other losers included the head of BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service, as well as a senior BBC News Group executive.
The news website is all white again – and many others were hoping that the new BBC chief, Andrew Mitchell, a black man, would show the way. The BBC missed its target of a 12.3 per cent diversity rate by 2020, but one spokesperson said this was lower than its previous target of 11.5 per cent.
The ousting of Ahmed, whose father is Sudanese, comes after a damning report found the company had one of the highest levels of racial discrimination in its workforce. The report was produced by Tim Davie, former CEO of BBC Worldwide, which is run by the same company as BBC parent BBC plc. Davie founded the company’s first all-white board of directors in the late 1990s and told executives they would not be promoted if they did not meet the organisation’s diversity target of 10.5 percent diversity.
Tufayel Ahmed, a journalist and lecturer who runs the #DiversifyTheNewsroom initiative, said: “Less than two years ago, the BBC committed to representing BAME people on leadership teams, but now it seems to be back – and pedalling on its own. Ahmed said of his ousting: “The report shows that talented leaders are left or ousted as soon as they rise to the top. The BBC’s decision to sack one of its most talented and experienced BAME bosses is particularly worrying, particularly in the wake of a job-cutting pandemic that has disproportionately affected BAME staff for no apparent reason.
BAME journalists are already so badly under-represented in newsrooms, particularly at senior management level. Employment among BAME staff has fallen by more than five per cent in the past five years, compared with 0.2 per cent for whites. The above data are from the first national blocking period and the second phase in 2015-16.
Bectu, the BBC’s biggest union, has warned the corporation about the importance of its diversity policy. Philippa Childs, Bectu’s head of communications, said: “It is right that we have a policy that all senior leadership groups should have at least two BAME staff and we would urge other broadcasters to follow suit. We expect the BBC to take our own policies into account when filling senior positions in our newsroom and other parts of the organisation. This policy only makes sense if it is implemented, but it makes no sense if there is no clear commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Ahmed, a former Telegraph staff member, has been promoted to editor-in-chief and is responsible for the newsroom’s editorial strategy. The board reshuffle included the appointment of Jamie Angus, the director of the World Service, and Mr Munro, who was head of news and editorial, as well as the promotion of BBC boss Andy Coulson to chief executive officer. He was hired in a closed recruitment process and promoted after a three-month search by Ahmed and former BBC News editor Mr Munro.
However, he said he was “very disappointed” by the BBC’s decision to appoint Ahmed as editor-in-chief and Munro as managing director.
The BBC has suggested that BAME staff could be recruited by the end of this year to meet their commitments. A spokesman said: “The final composition of the BBC News Board has not yet been announced.
Two of the eight posts, i.e. a quarter, are currently unfilled, with the other three to be filled by the end of the year.
On Wednesday night, Mr Davie was sent an email signed by dozens of BBC staff protesting against Ahmed’s removal. Several of the BBC’s top news presenters are also said to have privately expressed concerns.